January 19, 2010

Union leaders outraged as governor cuts deep into higher ed budgets

Source: NYSUT News Wire

NYSUT's higher education leaders were outraged Tuesday as they learned of the cuts to SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges in Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget.

The budget proposes a cut of $118 million in state operating funds to SUNY, a $63.6 million cut to CUNY senior colleges, and a cut in state aid to the SUNY community colleges of $285 for the equivalent of every full-time student.

Devastating," said Andy Sako, president of the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College and a NYSUT at-large director representing community colleges. "I don't know how we can continue to do an effective job of training displaced workers in our community without proper support. This is going to cripple us, I think."

The governor's proposed reduction of $285 for every full-time student equivalent would reduce state spending on the community college system by $53 million. The state defines a full-time student in the community college system as one earning 15 credit hours per semester. More full-time students are registering now than at any time in recent memory, according to Ellen Schuler Mauk. To calculate the number of "full-time equivalent students," the state tallies all total credit hours that community college students are registered for - including students who are part-time or are taking a short-term certificate course - and then divides that total by 15. The $285 reduction in state aid per full-time equivalent student brings the state per-student expenditure to $2,260, the lowest it's been in a decade, according to NYSUT's community college leaders.

Phil Smith, president of United University Professions at SUNY, said the cuts go to the heart of any attempted recovery from the recession in New York. The proposed cuts at SUNY come on top of $410 million in reduced funding in the past two years.

"Any new reductions could deny the next generation of New Yorkers the opportunity to learn the skills they need to support themselves and to become the employees New York needs to attract new business," he said.

As part of his budget, Paterson also has proposed an initiative known as "The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, " which would allow individual campuses to raise tuition and set different costs for programs within the SUNY system.

Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and also a NYSUT board member, said that proposal appears to signal a breakup of the traditional SUNY system, and could make it even more difficult and costly for students to transfer from a community college to a four-year campus.

"Basically, it's every system and every college out for itself," Schuler Mauk said. "The whole notion of SUNY as a system of colleges that go from community college to a baccalaureate degree to a Ph.D is breaking apart."